When she's thirteen years old, she runs away from home.
Her father is passed out on the couch and she's done with middle school, come autumn she'll have to start high school and she won't know how to explain the bruises. And since her grandma passed, a couple months before, things have gotten worse and worse. She doesn't take much, she puts some of her favorite clothes in a backpack and runs until her feet hurt. Then she keeps running.
She hides in the east end of town, she's heard things are quieter there and people are too caught up with their own stuff to care if there's a kid sleeping on a bench in their park. She knows the winter is going to carry trouble, but this is the only life she can lead.
It's after three weeks of stolen meals and public water when two men walk up to her. The older one is wearing a black leather coat that stops shortly above his knee. Maria thinks they're gonna hurt her at first, she's been out of trouble all that time so it seems fair trouble has finally found her.
“So you're the kid who's been sneaking around my side of city, stealing food,” the man says and crouches down. He's wearing a black patch over one of his eyes and has a watch around his wrist that Maria is almost certain he shouldn't be able to afford.
Her back is to the alley wall and she gets up from the ground but doesn't push away from the bricks behind her. She nods.
“How'd you end up here?”
She doesn't say a word.
“Are your parents dead? You better answer me kid, I’m not known for my patience.”
She looks at him as he stands again, then at the skinny man behind him. The white boy is young, in his twenties probably. The black man with the leather coat is at least forty.
“My mom’s dead.”
Maria shrugs. He can see her bruises, she's sure.
“He hurt you?”
She hesitates, then nods.
“Alright kid. What’s your name?”
“Maria, that’s a beautiful name. I’m Nick,” he says and offers his hand.
She takes it, because really, what choice does she have? The man says it's his side of the city and Maria doesn't doubt it for a second; she gets in the car and doesn’t look back. Not that she really has anything to look back to.
Nick gives her a room of her own, and tells her he's going to buy her clothes and shoes and “a damn comb”, in his own words, because Maria’s hair is messy and getting long. Maria has never had a room of her own before, but not even that is an offer good enough to put her in a dress. She goes to the shop and picks a t-shirt that's too big and jeans that fall down too large on her shoes.
“You look like you belong in a movie from the last century,” Nick tells her. “Is there nothing in this damn shop made after the 2050's?”
“I like these. The hoodie, too,” Maria points at the dark blue hoodie that she chose but Nick asked her not to try on.
“You're a stubborn kid.”
Nick stares at her and for a second Maria thinks he's just gonna turn around and leave her ungrateful little self in the store without ever looking back.
“Pick a few other t-shirts, I'll chose the jeans. For real, kid, this is 2055, not 1985. No bell jeans.”
“Can I have the hoodie?”
The man sighs and bring his hands to his hips, his black coat shifting back slightly with the motion and looks at Maria again.
“Fine. Now get busy, pick a handful. Don't be too picky, choose a few, 'cause I'm not washing your damn shirts every three days.”
“Whatever,” Maria huffs and runs off to the other side of the store.
She comes back five minutes later with a handful of shirts and sees the regret in Nick's eyes for telling her not to be picky.
That night, she gets her hands on a pair of scissors and cuts her hair as short as she wants them to be. For no other reason other than her father can't forbid her to anymore.
She starts hanging around the bar. It says The Shield on the sign outside, but everyone just calls it “Fury's”. She knows it's not just a bar, but she's not sure she wants to know what happens around the place.
There are a few other kids in the neighborhood and Maria becomes friends with three of them. Sam, Steve and James. Nick scoffs at her and mutters that of damn course she's gonna be best buddies with two of the skinniest kid in town, because she can never make it easier on him.
She's been with him for about three months and they're having dinner when she looks up at him and asks him why he took her in.
He puts down his fork and stares at her again with that look that makes Maria think he's gonna get rid of her by morning.
“I'm not trying to sound ungrateful. I know you didn't have to, and I'm very grateful. But that's just it, you didn't have to. Why did you?”
“You were starving and I got too much food.”
Maria keeps looking at him as he eats, until he puts his fork down again.
“Listen very carefully, 'cause I'm never gonna say this again,” he warns her. “I took you in 'cause two years ago I sent one of my recruiters to your school and he told me you built an holowatch from scratch. I told him to talk to your father and put you in a program for the gifted, but he said you were too young. We went back when you finished middle school and your teachers said you ran. That your grandma died and you went to school always covered in bruises. I see that scared look you got when you piss me off, and I know you don't piss me off on purpose but you get scared I might hit you or kick you out. Well, I'm not gonna. This is your home now. I only regret I didn't bring you here sooner.”
“I don't have it anymore.”
“The holowatch. Sorry.”
“I don't want your holowatch, I got one of my own. Kid, eat your damn burger.”
“Yours glitches when you use it and doesn't transmit in colors. I can make it better, I just need the parts.”
“You're not here to make me money, kid. You're here to make me spend some. Eat your burger.”
Maria shrugs and eats. But in her mind she's already thinking about the parts she might need.
She wants to help out around the bar, mostly because there’s still a part of her that feels like Nick might kick her out, so she tries to prove she’s not just some ungrateful kid, no matter how many times he says he doesn’t want her to be grateful, he wants her to be happy.
He doesn’t want her to help around the bar but she does it anyway and it all goes okay until she hits puberty and suddenly looks like a girl. Her hoodie doesn’t fit anymore and all her shirts are too tight on her chest. It all goes okay, until it doesn’t.
Nick, the over-protective man he is, decides to make an example out of the first man who tries to grope her ass. He gets Phil to hold him down with an elbow pressing into his neck so his face is kissing the counter and Phil’s other hand is holding his arm, right hand down on the counter, palm open across the wood. Nick has a bat, an old baseball bat with a chip on the handle that he uses to get the rusty bathroom door back in place when it bends. There’s a lot of people looking and Maria knows he's doing it now so he never has to again.
He tells the sweaty man “You try to touch a girl with one single finger without her asking you to, I’m gonna break you all five of them.”
The sound the man makes when the bat comes down on his hand is a beastly thing, like a wounded animal leaning on his broken limb. That’s when she knows every man is capable of violence. Good people just use it against who deserves it.
Nick tells her it’s important to be clear. “You have to send a message, once. If you have to send it twice you weren’t clear the first time, so make sure you’re clear.”
She buys another hoodie, it’s a little lighter than the old one, but it’s still blue and just large enough to make her feel confident again. She doesn’t like to be stared at.
After that, when Nick says he doesn’t want her around the bar with all the no-good boys of the neighborhood she listens and asks him to give her another job. She’s old enough now to be shown what it is they do for a living besides feeding drinks to empty men. Nick doesn’t bring her to the room she already knows exists somewhere below, but he says she can start with the easier part. She can be their delivery girl, she’s got a bike and a backpack and that’s really all she needs.
“You weren’t born yet, when the war broke out. After the war, the government shut down every tech factory in the country, then other countries followed, and here we are. They bought back old stuff, like the holowatches you like to build, you know how they work, once they’re on your wrist and they got your fingerprint they can’t be used by anybody else. They were destroyed, and the few untouched ones were sold for an unfair amount. It’s not illegal to have one, it’s illegal to make one, you understand what I’m saying?”
“It’s not dangerous to go 'round with a backpack full of holo’s but if an agent walks into the basement they’re gonna cut our hands off.”
Nick rolls his eyes. Close enough. “We make them for people who sold them when they needed the money and now can’t buy another one, homeless people, poor people. You know those things tell you where to buy food, when it’s gonna rain, when it’s gonna snow. Poor people without those get poorer.”
“That’s why HYDRA took them away,” Maria says and she’s not wrong, but it’s not just that. It’s part of a system. Holo’s are the main source of news, too, it’s either that or the maxiscreens and those are full of old doctrines. “So this is why your side of the city despite being the poorest goes on fine.”
“That’s a part of it, yeah. We don’t just build watches here.”
“Figured,” she stuffs her hands in her hoodie's pockets.
“Remember when Mr K’s screen broke down last year? He got another one, a little older and it glitches more often than not, but he didn’t have to close his shop.”
“Yeah. He was worried ‘cause without a wallscreen you can’t keep any shop open. He sells shoes, what does he even need that for,” Maria mutters.
“Me and Phil built that. It doesn’t work eight times out of ten but he didn’t have to close.”
“Ah. He paid you?”
“A tenth the price to get a new one. We use the money for the parts we need for the holowatches and the other stuff that keeps this neighborhood afloat.”
Maria think about it for a while. Then she nods. “I can do delivery.”
And she does. She does delivery for three weeks, to be precise. Every Friday she delivers a watch to someone, gives them a proper speech to explain how it works and leave without being paid or often even thanked. The third week she asks Nick why they only send out one every week.
“'Cause that’s how fast we can make them. We’re no factory, kid.”
Maria shifts her weight from one foot to the other and gives it some thought.
“I can make one a day.”
Nick laughs and doesn’t raise his eyes from the glass he’s cleaning.
“I can make one a day,” Maria says again and she’s dead serious.
Nick looks at her with his one good eye and frowns.
“No you can’t.” Maria stays serious. “No you can’t,” he says again but he’s less convinced this time.
“One a day,” Maria nods, raising one finger to make her point.
That’s when he shows her the basement.
She comes back from delivery one day, a few weeks later, and puts three holo’s on Nick’s desk.
“Why’d you bring these to me.”
“There’s no more people who need them in the east side.”
Fury puts his pen down and looks up at her for a long moment. “Let me make a call to a friend. Maybe we can send some outside the city.”
Maria nods and he just keeps looking at him.
“Do you want something else?”
“I made a wristphone,” she inches her sleeve up. “You can place orders online and check your bank account and get a bank account and a lot of other stuff you can’t do with the holo’s.”
“Where’d you even-”
“Most parts are the same and the tech is similar. I can’t make them for everyone but I can make one for you and one for Phil. The calls aren’t traceable on these and you can’t keep using holo’s forever, ‘cause you’re gonna get caught. I can just make a couple.”
He looks at her wrist one more time, then he sighs. “Just two, kid. Just two more. Don’t waste my parts.”
She turns around but Nick calls for her.
“Maria? I’m proud of you.”
She doesn’t know what to say, so she nods and hastily leaves.
She finishes high school in two years. It's three weeks before her graduation when she comes home one day, she gets into the bar, up the stairs and drops her backpack into the living room. There's music coming from downstairs, it's a very old song. She's never heard it before, but she's never going to forget it.
The door of her dad's upstairs office is ajar and when she looks through the crack there's someone sitting on the office's sofa. A girl. But not just a girl. This girl has something magical about her, Maria doesn't know what it is, maybe just the old song playing in the background.
“She came here, traveled across the world, the least we can do-” Nick's voice sounds distant, maybe because she's so engrossed in that girl's features. That is, until Fury's body covers her sight. “You're back. I'll be down in a minute, tell Phil to cut off that damn music, will you? It's ancient.”
He closes the door in her face, so she goes back to the living room and picks her backpack up, then heads down again and tells Phil to turn off the music, old man's orders.
“He better not hear you call him that. Plus, it's a classic. Who doesn't like classics.”
“It's like a hundred years old.”
“I know. They don't do music like this anymore.”
Maria shrugs and heads for the back of the bar. There's a secret door in the kitchen's floor that brings to a basement. That's where she and Nick build all that stuff.
The money, she learned quickly, wasn't coming for the bar. The bar wasn't even breaking even. The money came from the not-so-legal side of business. They build some banned tech, third generation stuff, and sold them to the locals. Not just holowatches anymore, but wristphones, even wallscreens and that one car navigator one time. All the out of production stuff – the harmless stuff at least – was purchasable for a fair price there at Fury's.
And she was quickly becoming his best engineer.
She graduated high school in two years and Nick was sure she could get her degree in the same amount of time. She told him many times she wasn't gonna need it. She was gonna stay there with him, work at the bar, building holowatches in her free time and helping him to keep the east side on the right track. But he wasn't having it.
She heard what everyone said. “Fury's got a soft spot for that kid.” Maybe he did. Maybe it was fair, because Maria was loyal to him and him alone.
There's a place at the end of the street where Sam and Steve go to dance. Maria doesn't like it that much but she goes with them and sits at the counter while they dance. She tells them it's to make sure they don't get beaten up by someone they look at in the wrong way, but the truth is Maria goes there and sits at the counter, in a corner, and stares at the bartender trying not to get caught.
She's got a name tag that says Vicky and a pink strand in her hair. Maria doesn't know why she likes to look at her. She just knows they go in a place where they can't drink – she's still underage – and she doesn't even dance, just because some girl behind the counter looks pretty.
It's confusing, she doesn't like it. She wishes she could take her feeling apart and peek inside, and fix it like she fixes the holo's Nick brings her, she wishes she understood this like she would understand a wristphone. But you can't dissect emotions like you do with tech, so she's not yet sure what she's staring at, yet.
One night, when the place is close to empty, the waitress talks to her. Her full name is Victoria and she's twenty-one. Maria's seventeen but she lies and says she's turning nineteen in the spring. She doesn't know why she does it, she just thinks she has to. They talk and laugh and Maria is starting to understand what this thing she feels around her is.
Two nights after that they're walking past the back alley of that place and they see Vicky making out with some boy. They laugh and she smiles and looks up in time to see Maria, Steve and Sam look at them from the main street.
“Get a room!” Sam yells and laughs and Maria feels this heavy thing in her chest she can't get rid of for the whole week.
She never sets foot in Vicky's place again.
Sam is the first one to move away.
“I'll get a w-phone. I'll call you someday.”
Steve nods but they don't believe him. Bucky said the same thing three years before and they never heard from him again. Maria knows Sam has outgrown the east end and she doesn't try to get him to stay.
Eventually, Steve leaves too. He goes looking for Bucky in the next city over one day and Maria never sees him again. That's how it happens, sometimes.
It's the summer of 2061, June just started, and Maria's freshly graduated from the best online college they could afford and barely eighteen. She puts enough money away to buy an hold car, the cheapest she can find, an ancient Honda Accord from 2018, red, one of thee models left in the world probably. She has ten song in its memory, it's so hold Maria couldn't enhance it to remember more, but it's her baby and she wouldn't trade it for anything.
That summer one of Nick's friends from Europe comes to visit and Maria has already a plan to avoid the super classy lady she knows will show up at their door. She's still going around wearing a blue hoodie and light blue jeans, torn at the thighs where her skin can be seen. She has taken the habit of wearing the hood so people don't look weirdly at her and she's almost always walking around with a pair of aviator sunglasses on her eyes. Nick hates it. He says she looks like an edgy teen out of a 2010's movie.
Nick calls her into his office the morning his friend is scheduled to arrive and he tells her they're staying for a while, so she has to be nice. There goes Maria's plan of not talking to her at all.
“Her niece is coming with her, you're showing her 'round.”
“Come on, why me?” Maria complains for no other reason than the fact that she can. “Phil's always here playing old music that you hate, send him,” Maria waves at the man sitting on the couch by the side wall.
“Hey, watch it, kid.”
“I'm asking you 'cause I don't trust somebody else.”
“So I gotta babysit?”
“If anything she's gonna be babysitting you, kid, since she's a year older than you. Listen, you're gonna get along just fine.”
“What if we don't? What if she wants to do something lame?”
“Then you're lady lame for the summer, Maria,” Nick tells her with his final tone. “If she wanna go shopping you drive her, if she wants to see a movie you buy tickets, if she wants to go sightseeing you pull a map out of your pocket and if she wants to go to a goddamn park-”
“-I'm gonna buy some bread and crush it to crumbs that she can feed the motherfucking birds.”
Nick looks like he's about to start laughing, but then he nods. “Whatever she wants you to do, you do it, kid.”
She salutes him mockingly and stuffs her hands in her pockets as she exits the bar. She can't believe this is how she's going to spend all her free time. That is, until she walks out of the bar slamming the door and there's a girl leaning on her car that looks like she lost her way and ended up there from a movie set.
Nick walks out as she's taking her sunglasses of, slowly.
“Ah, Peggy, you're here already,” there's a woman wearing a red hat he kisses on both cheeks. “Sharon, it's nice to see you again, you've grown up so much.”
Nick turns to her. Maria hasn't moved. He gestures for her to move and she complies without saying a word or talking back, probably for the first time since Nick brought her in.
“This is my kid, Maria. This is Peggy and her niece Sharon.”
Maria shakes their hands, Nick takes their bags.
“I've heard some wonderful things about you,” Peggy tell her and she's got the most endearing accent Maria has ever heard.
“So, that thing we-” Peggy starts, but Nick waves her off.
“Come inside, have a drink. Work is for tomorrow, today you settle in and we catch up. You girls are going to be okay?”
“Sure,” Maria tells him and he nods to both of them as he walks after Peggy. “You're on my car,” Maria points out, looking at the blonde.
“This is yours?”
Maria nods. “Want to-” she fishes her keys out of her pocket and presses the button that opens up the doors.
Sharon shrugs and walks around it, getting on the passenger's side.
“So, what do you wanna do?”
“Don't know. See the city?”
Maria shrugs. She can do that. She drives Sharon around and takes her to all the best places in the city, than takes her back to the east end for the night.
The next day she chaperons again without complaining when Sharon asks her to go shopping and then walk through the park. She does everything Sharon asks up until the moment Sharon tells her she wants to go back home and Maria takes her.
They sit in her car outside Fury's and talk about the place Sharon comes from. She says it's all open fields and green there. Maria listens carefully and tries not to interrupt with questions unless it's essential. Sharon tells her about her parents and her aunt and how they might have to stay the whole summer if Nick and Peggy can't work out how to build a new kind of photostatic veil. It's third generation stuff, it's one of the banned techs and they shouldn't be talking about it. When Maria points that out, Sharon laughs.
“You're Fury's kid.”
“You're famous. I know you know about this stuff.”
“Yeah. Aren't you the one sending the holowatches to the people outside the city?”
“So, people use them to get online, to know where to buy food, to know where is safe and where there's guards around.”
“Those goddamn things,” Maria whispers. “One of those androids smelled the oil on my jacket once. Almost got me in handcuffs. People shouldn't struggle to live, we know how to build those watches, so why aren't we?”
“You know why. Why they took them away in the first place, why they want poor people to stay poor and misinformed. But still, you're helping the resistance. Word on the street is you're sending out a dozen a week.”
“Sometimes less, sometimes more. Depends on the parts we can get.”
It starts to get dark outside and Sharon gives her a weird look before getting out of her car. Maria does too and she leans back on the door, stuffs her hands in her pockets and watches Sharon walk back into the building where her aunt Peggy is renting an apartment for the summer.
She walks to Fury's, avoiding his office and walking straight up to her room. She spends the evening researching photostatic tech. From what she gathers, it's thousands of dollars out of their budgets, so it looks like the Carter's are spending the summer in the city.
The next morning she waits for Sharon where she watched her go the night before, on the sidewalk, leaning on her car. Sharon walks to her slowly, like she's making Maria wait on purpose.
“What's the most boring thing you can think of doing?”
Maria shrugs. “Shopping?”
“Good. We'll tell them that's how we spent the day.”
Maria doesn't say anything, doesn't ask how they're spending the day instead. Sharon just gestures for her to follow and walks back into the building she came out of. Maria follows her up the stairs and into her bedroom.
They sit there, back on the headboard and legs stretched out, talking about retaliation and politics and everything two eighteen-years-old girls shouldn't be talking about. Sharon scoots closer, she turns her head and gives Maria all the time to move back if she wants to. She doesn't, so Sharon kisses her.
Maria has her hands in her hoodie's pockets and her knees are up, so it's awkward at first. She straightens her legs and Sharon moves so she's in her lap, straddling her. Maria touches her waist clumsily, trying to find a way to make it seem more practiced.
The kiss goes on for a while, until they hear the front door open and they spun apart, trying to pretend they were doing something entirely different.
“I just left it on my nightstand probably,” they hear Peggy's voice. “Found it!”
The door closes again without anyone coming even close to Sharon's room. They burst out laughing and the moment passes. They decide they're hungry, so they go out for lunch and start talking about politics again.
Next morning, they try it in the car.
Sharon makes her drive to an abandoned lot and they get in the back seat.
It's not really romantic, the stereo's playing the same song on repeat, some twelve minutes track from the 2040's that's all basses and weird lyrics. They keep their clothes on, because if someone's catching them having sex in an empty parking lot at least they're not gonna get caught with their bottoms out in the air. Sharon's pants are too tight, that old stuff from the early 2010's that Nick is always complaining about. Maria can see his point now, because getting her hand down those skinny jeans isn't gonna work.
They find a way, eventually, with Sharon laid down on the back seat and her pants just low enough that Maria has room to move her hand. She feels too clumsy to be doing something like this, she feels like she's thirteen again, but does her best to focus. They're both too nervous, Maria bangs her head on the roof of the car two times and Sharon keeps kicking the door by accident.
It feels messy and rushed up until the point Sharon starts shaking beneath her, and suddenly Maria thinks they've being doing okay.
Sharon flips them and unbuttons Maria's jeans while they start kissing again. She's never felt like this before, never felt this light or giddy.
When they're done, they stay there for a while, sitting up in the back of the car. They don't talk much, just enough to make sure they're both alright and they're both on the same page about it being just a summer fling.
When Maria asks if it was okay Sharon laughs, and tells her that, for a genius, she can be really daft sometimes.
Yeah, Maria thinks, they've been doing okay.
“Really? Sharon Carter?”
It's been months, maybe years since she pissed Fury off this much. They managed to sneak around for about a week, before getting caught making out in Maria's car.
“What the hell were you thinking?!”
Phil's sitting on the couch and Fury's pacing in front of his desk. Maria's standing up barely inside the closed door, not daring to step further into the room.
“All the pretty girls you got around here and you go for the niece of the only woman in the world who could be able to help us!”
She got her hands in her hoodie's pockets and she hasn't been saying a word.
“You got nothing to say for yourself?”
He knows Maria always has something to say for herself, so that's on him for asking, really.
“Well... you did say I had to do what she asked. You said whatever she wanted me to do, I should do it. So really, how can it be my fault, she asked me to do it and I did as you said.”
For a second, the room is quiet. Then, Phil bursts out laughing. Fury looks at him, incredulous.
“I mean, the kid has a point. You did say that.”
“Get out of here, go! I'll deal with you later, after I convince Peggy not to bail on our project. Get out of my sight, beat it!”
Maria doesn't need to be told twice. She's out the door before Phil is even standing up. She steps sideways and waits to hear how pissed off Fur really is.
“You have to admit, she has good taste,” she hears Phil say.
Nick's soft laughter reaches her ears a second later. “She asked me to do it and you said to do what she asked,” he repeats. “That kid's really something else.”
“It's why you have a soft spot for her.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
Maria smiles, then walks out of the bar and into the street. Sharon's leaning on her car, arms crossed and smirk on her face. Maria leans next to her.
“Don't be sad,” Sharon says, pushing away from the car and stepping in front of Maria, taking her aviator sunglasses from the V neck of her shirt and putting them on her face. She kisses Maria on the cheek and walks back up to her aunt's apartment, while Maria gets into her car and drive without knowing where to, a small smile on her lips.
Fury tries to keep her as busy as he can possibly manage, so she can't see Sharon even if she decides to disobey him. He sends her out for deliveries and when they don’t have any she goes with Phil around the block. They just make the rounds, go into every shop, take a look around, if the owners approach them to ask for something Phil writes it down using a code.
People stop them and ask him for stuff, then nod to Maria when he says she’s Fury’s kid. Maria thought they were dealers. They’re not. They’re fixers, for these people at least.
Until one day, two men follow them into an alley and try to beat the life out of them. Phil gets the worst of it, because Maria carries a stick in her hoodie full of electrifying chips. She plays with it when she’s bored and has never had to use it before. She sticks one of those to one of the men’s chest and fries him so much that he’s gonna have a scar for the rest of his life, small and round like a cigarette’s burn, in the middle of his chest. When he passes out she does the same with the other man. Phil is bleeding from his mouth and has a large bruise on his side, but he’s gonna live.
She waits outside the downstairs office and hears everything they don’t want to tell her to her face.
“They were Red Room. Mercenaries HYDRA hires for the jobs government shouldn’t be caught doing. We gotta call R,” Phil says.
“To tell her what?” Fury asks. “We can’t help. We don’t have the photostatic veil, we don’t have weapons.”
“Nick, Maria was- you gotta send her to R. She was with me. She could’ve-”
“She doesn’t have a scratch, you’re the one half dead bleeding on my couch.”
“We can’t help, you said so. Not in the grand scheme of things. But she can. So tell me, what is she still doing here?”
There’s silence and Maria hates it. It’s louder than any words she has ever heard before, because it can only mean he's agreeing with Phil.
“Nick,” Phil answers his own question, “she’s here 'cause she’s your kid. But you gotta give her her best chance. You and I both know that's not here.”
Maria goes to the kitchen and down to the basement and doesn’t come out until she has built herself a gun. Well, not a gun. It’s a shockgun, a small black cylinder that shoots out those electrifying little chips, has twenty of them loaded. She was working on it before Sharon came around and she’s been distracted but it’s finished now. She can show it to Nick and he’ll forgive her, he has to. He can’t not forgive her, can he?
When Nick calls her back into his office he’s pouring himself a glass of cheap whiskey and that’s never been a good sign.
“I got you a job.”
“Thought I was already working for you.”
“No, I got you a proper job, where you can put that degree of yours to good use.”
“I’m fine here.”
He sighs and takes a sip from his glass and finally turns to face her. “The day I finally tracked you down, you remember it? The first thing you said to me that wasn’t an answer to a question I asked was something like...” he taps his forehead like he’s trying hard to remember.
“I said your car was dusty.”
He laughs. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s what you said. I knew I’d like you then, you’re not nice to people who wanna help you 'cause you know, if they really want to, they’re gonna even if you’re shit to them. But here’s the thing, kid. Nobody wants to help you out there. I’m your-” he pauses because he has never said that before and it’s a thing they don’t really talk about.
But this time, Maria wants to.
“You’re not my father. My father was shit. You’re a hundred times the man he was, that’s why I never called you that. But you know I-” she can’t say that to her old man. It’s not how they do things.
“Me too, kid,” Nick says. “The job I got you, you’re gonna love it. Don’t go and mess it up.”
“What if I wanna stay?”
“You’ve outgrown this place.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Have you taken a look around this side of town, lately? Life’s not fair.”
“I have. I’m out on our streets everyday, who’s gonna go if I’m not here?”
He sighs, gulps down his whiskey. “These are not our streets anymore, kid. Two years ago, or hell, even two months ago, nobody would have dared to lay a finger on you. Me and Phil will get by, don’t worry about us. You’re going to New York, a friend of mine’s gonna make sure you do okay.”
“This R guy you and Phil were talking about?”
Nick doesn't seem overly surprised Maria has been eavesdropping. “Yeah.”
Maria doesn’t want to go, she doesn’t like how things are happening. But she’s sure she doesn’t really get a vote anyway.
“I got something for you,” she says. She hands him the black cylinder, explains how it works. “It's a shockgun.”
“We don’t do weapons,” Fury says, his tone hard.
“Yeah, I know” Maria nods. “That’s why these aren’t our streets anymore. Next time I won’t be there to get Phil out so just take this. I made him one, too. And I’m taking one with me. It just looks like a stick, but if you press the button at the end of it, it shoots an electrifying chip, it's how I took down those guys.”
Nick looks at her, really looks at her. They say there’s a moment when you look at your kid and you realize there’s no kid in the room anymore. Maria’s been with him for six years, and for the first time Fury looks at her and feels like he doesn’t know what she’s gonna do next, who she’s gonna become, and he realizes she’s outgrown him like she’s outgrown their city, too.
He hugs her tight like he’s never hugged her before and he prays she’s gonna forgive him someday.
“I love you, kid.”
Maria hugs him back. She knows he’s doing what’s best for her, but it doesn’t make going any less hard.
“I love you, too.”
And so it goes, she leaves the only place she’s ever known with a backpack and a half empty duffle bag. She leaves her car in Nick’s garages, covered with a sheet she isn’t sure she’ll ever get to lift again. She leaves Phil her sunglasses and goes to wave at Sharon from across the street.
Nick takes her to the airport and watches her get past the agents at the front doors without following her inside. They nod to each other from across the glass and Maria turns away, walking fast, afraid that if she takes too long to reach her plane her feet will know what she’s leaving and will refuse to carry her.